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Physics undergrad research woes

  1. Mar 11, 2015 #1
    Hey everyone, I'm currently into my second semester of a physics B.S with a math minor. After a poorly planned dabble in a chemistry double major and some mental health issues, I left last semester with a 3.1 GPA, and it likely won't get much better after this semester either. Grad school has always been my dream, and often the advice I get is to do a lot of research and get experience to make up for less than stellar grades. The problem is, I have absolutely nothing lined up for this summer and I'm starting to get anxious. Ironically, I can't apply for any REUs because my GPA is too low for them to even give me a look over and I have no previous experience anywhere. I go to an incredibly large northeastern school with over 30,000 students, also, so I have very little individual relationship with my professors. I am also a commuter and am at a disadvantage with the amount of time I have to network or talk to anyone on campus, so I'm unsure how to go about trying to find an on-campus opportunity. I feel incredibly lost.

    Does anyone have any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 11, 2015 #2
    I'm sorry to hear about those problems, that really sucks. If you won't be in good enough shape to significantly raise your GPA, then I would consider a break from University altogether. Get some work experience, recover, do what you need to for a semester or two. If you really want to go to grad school, then you'll need a much better GPA and other things like REUs. Successful grad students have come back from far worse, but if next year will just be a repeat of last then you really need to prepare yourself first. I'm sorry I can't give any detailed insight into this issue, but I hope everything works out!
  4. Mar 11, 2015 #3
    You say your GPA dropped in part due to mental health issues. My first advice to you would be (if you aren't already) to seek professional help in regards to this.

    That said, have you tried approaching any of your professors about research opportunities? While I'm not in physics, I wouldn't say that all is lost with your GPA. Most grad schools require 3.0+ GPAs for admission, and you still have two years to raise yours. Obviously, the next thing you should do is to pinpoint any other issues that affected your grades last semester.
  5. Mar 11, 2015 #4


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    I agree with Axmls that if you really are interested in a research position, start by asking your professors. They might be able to point you in the right direction. You could also try your undergraduate physics society or your undergraduate advisor as they can often have leads on who typically takes on a student for the summer. Normally March is a little late for this kind of thing, but it's not unheard of to get a position still.

    That said, keep in mind that there's no absolute need to get involved in research between your first and second year. It's important that you get some research experience at some point during your undergraduate years. That can be a single summer between third and fourth year, a volunteer position over the course a year, or even a senior thesis project. I think that the advice of "take advantage of opportunities to do research" is often confused with "you won't get into graduate school if you haven't done a formal REU program that resulted in a first-author publication every summer since you were sixteen."

    Another option is to take the summer off of academics and aim to get the highest paying job possible, or one that's going to give you some marketable experience later on. Sometimes you can learn a lot at those jobs that you don't think are going to count for much. This strategy can also give you time to do a bunch of reading or projects inspired by your own interests. Doing this can help to prevent burn out.
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